Safety fears over plans to scrap towing test for trailers and caravans

Plans to scrap the separate driving test required for drivers to tow trailers could lead to more accidents, according to a leading road safety charity.

The Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency is consulting on a number of proposals, including a suggestion that it could drop the B+E driving test - currently required for private motorists who want to tow a trailer or caravan.

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However, IAM Roadsmart has warned that such a move could compromise road safety at a time when more and more people are buying caravans.

Currently, anyone who passed their driving test after 1 January 1997 can drive a vehicle of up to 3,500kg maximum authorised mass (MAM) towing a trailer of up to 750kg MAM. They can also tow a heavier trailer as long as the total MAM of the car and trailer doesn’t exceed 3,500kg.

For anything heavier a B+E qualification is needed and in 2018 30,000 people sat the trailer test - a 50 per cent increase from 2014/15.

The DVSA is considering scrapping the test as it looks for ways to address the current shortage of HGV drivers. It argues that by ditching the B+E test it would allow examiners to concentrate on vocational tests for HGV drivers.

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Niel Greig director of policy and research at IAM RoadSmart said such a move raised concerns around driver ability and knowledge in the face of rising interest in caravans.

In the face of continuing travel restrictions, caravan sales have soared, with the National Caravan Council reporting registrations were 71 per cent higher in July 2020 than they were in July 2019, with more than a third of buyers (37 per cent) first-time owners.

Interest in caravans has soared since the start of the pandemic Interest in caravans has soared since the start of the pandemic
Interest in caravans has soared since the start of the pandemic

Mr Greig said: “If a test is no longer a requirement, this raises some serious safety concerns, especially at this busy holiday time.

“We are very concerned the decision will exacerbate an existing safety situation as currently, as per DVSA’s own safety checks, up to one in six caravans they stopped had a serious safety issue, while four in 10 small trailers were also found with serious safety issues. Many of these could have been avoided by better training and awareness of towing safety best practice.

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“The DSA had a clear safety reason for introducing the test in 1997, and these reasons are still valid. People need proper training to be able to drive an articulated vehicle, particularly when they are doing so for the first time.”

The charity said that the current assessment helps educate drivers on how to handle difficult situations when towing, such as “snaking” or “pitching” where the trailer’s motion is out of alignment with that of the car.

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